Take your seat at chef Santi Louzán’s table

Santi Louzan Galicia

When chef Santi Louzán says “mi casa es su casa”, he means it.

From his gorgeous loft apartment in one of the Mother City’s gracious Art Deco buildings, Santi’s Chef’s Table Cape Town has quickly grown a following among hungry locals for the warm welcome as much as the fine food.

“I like making people comfortable; I want people to feel at home when they come here,” Santi smiles. “What I want to offer is that element of a social table, with people telling their own stories while I take them through a food journey. It’s about bringing people together and sharing my love for food, and what food has meant to me through my life.”

“I like making people comfortable; I want people to feel at home when they come here,” chef Santi Louzán

Santi was born in the small village of Cee (pronounced th-eh) in Galicia, the autonomous region of north-western Spain. And with galegos celebrating Día Nacional de Galicia (the National Day of Galicia) on 25 July, the “saint day” of Santiago, he is the perfect person to talk me through the flavours of the region.

While you may not have heard of Galicia, you surely know of its capital, the city of Santiago de Compostela. It’s famous as the end point of the iconic Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage way of Saint James. In fact, the final stretch of this ancient route runs further west to Finisterre, crossing land that still belongs to Santi’s family.

The “saint day” of Santiago, Día Nacional de Galicia (the National Day of Galicia), falls on 25 July.

Though the region is one of the less wealthy corners of Spain, it is rich in produce –  a combination that informs many local dishes. Think caldo galego, a rustic Galician vegetable-based broth, and flaky empanadas filled with anything from beef to cuttlefish. With the region’s dramatic coastline, it’s little wonder pulpo [octopus] is popular in Galicia, too.

“We have some of the best meat and the best fish – Galicia is known as the garden of Spain,” adds Santi, whose childhood memories run from foraging mussels and hunting for octopus, to collecting fresh vegetables from his grandfather’s farm.

“Galicia is known as the garden of Spain,” chef Santi Louzán

While this Galician heritage is an undercurrent of inspiration for the menus at his chef’s table, his years in Michelin-starred kitchens across the United Kingdom equally inform what’s served on the seven-course set menu.

Evenings in Santi’s gorgeous loft apartment begin with a glass of bubbly and a selection of canapés and tapas snacks at the kitchen counter. Guests then move to the long table alongside the kitchen for a delicious culinary journey presented by Santi himself.

“I love to take traditional dishes and make them relevant, changing them with a modern twist,” Santi explains. His prawn cocktail is a great example, transforming a ’70s classic into a work of modern culinary art. The silky chicken parfait is equally given a modern reworking.

Need a wine to pair it with? Galicia is famous for its Albariño, a niche cultivar slowly making in-roads in local vineyards thanks to the likes of Springfield Estate outside Robertson, and Newton-Johnson Vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley.

Galicia is famous for its Albariño, a niche cultivar slowly making in-roads in local vineyards.

Santi chooses five wines to pair with each evening’s meal, so you certainly won’t leave thirsty or hungry.

“My main course is always a modern take on a homely, hearty dish, taking inspiration from the food I’ve cooked and enjoyed through my life,” says Santi, who sources local seafood direct from fishermen using the mobile app from social enterprise Abalobi.

That tradition of generosity comes straight from memories of family meals at home in Spain, where bowls were filled with ladles of callos, a rich Galician stew made from pork, beef and chickpeas.

“My main course is always a modern take on a homely, hearty dish, taking inspiration from the food I’ve cooked and enjoyed through my life,” chef Santi Louzán

“When celebrating saint days at home, the main meal is something hearty – [there are always] big dishes in the middle of the table. And there has to be lots of food. The biggest nightmare for my mom and granny is if the food gets finished, which means you didn’t cook enough!”

That’s unlikely to happen at Santi’s dinners, though, which end with dessert that’s as much of an artful surprise as the prawn cocktail. But to find out more about that, you’ll have to book your seat at the table.

What I can say is, for Día Nacional de Galicia, Santi has baked one of the most famous pastries in Spain: the Tarta de Santiago – a dense almond tart traditionally decorated with the ornate cross of Saint James. What a suitably sweet ending to the day celebrating Galicia’s most revered saint!

We got a taste of Galicia with three glorious dishes from Santi’s kitchen. Click on the links below for the recipes.

CHEFSTABLECAPETOWN.COM

By Richard Holmes
Photographs by Bruce Tuck

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